MEXICAN MUSHROOMS ON SUMMER SOLSTICE,
or: "YOUR CORAZON, SEÑOR!"
The Lama's Report From An Eventful Journey with Psilocybe Cubensis
*** Disclaimer: if you are unfamiliar with trip reports, especially those that concern
Plant Teachers, some of what follows may make no sense. ***
~ BACKGROUND ~
The Set: This is my first psychedelic experience in many years. I stopped doing lysergics after the acid I was dropping finally bit back, and showed me in no uncertain terms that I had important things to deal with in the samsaric world, things which could not be resolved via chemical bliss. As Alan Watts said, once you get the message, hang up the phone. Well, I had stayed on the line too long, until the molecule at the other end got angry and told me to fuck off and get sorted.
Fast forward to 2008, where after years of irregular buddhist meditation and a certain amount of soul-searching, my interest in tripping out again began to rear its multicolored trickster head. There was also a professional interest, where I from a writer's standpoint wanted to check out some hallucinogenic compounds that had eluded me in younger days. I had done psilocybe mushrooms before on a couple of occasions, but due to poor raw material or insufficient dosage, the trips had been pretty weak. Influenced by the shamanic paradigm that's been dominant in recent years I approach the current mushroom project with some seriousness; I meditate, fast, and load up on useful input from the likes of Terence McKenna.
The Setting: It is not easy for a family man to find the two undisturbed days needed for a serious psychedelic experiment, but during recent weeks several factors converged that opened such a window. That this would take place on the weekend of Summer Solstice -- the longest day of the year, a national holiday, and a time of great spiritual importance since pre-historic culture -- seemed final proof that the time had come for me to go back into the other world. This would occur in our apartment, empty except for myself and our two guinea pigs, during the afternoon-evening.
The Entheogen: As the time came around, I examined the mushrooms in detail. These were the classic Mexican Psilocybe Cubensis, aka Stropharia Cubensis, which is sort of the IBM of psilocybe shrooms. They were dried and had a golden hue, and weighed in slightly higher than what the source had specified. I was aiming for a relatively moderate trip, but during the final preparations I managed to convince myself to take more than half the mushrooms, and somehow I also selected the biggest specimens of the dozen I had. In retrospect I estimate the weight consumed to around 2.5 grams -- which is only half of McKenna's recommended dosage. So, a mild, controlled experiment lay ahead? Well, as it turned out... not really!
~ THE TRIP ~
The exploration began at 14.00 on the eve of Summer Solstice, when the mushrooms were carefully chewed (to absorb as much as possible via the mouth) and swallowed. The taste was rather agreeable, not quite salad-worthy, but entirely edible. I moved from the kitchen into the living room, where I planned to catch the oncoming effects while looking at the vast, sun-lit tree foliages outside our window. Since early childhood I have always loved to watch branches and leaves move in the wind. The on-set of the psilocybin was rapid, something which I knew from my acid trips indicated a powerful experience ahead.
The first visual phenomena was a kind of flickering light, like from a stroboscope, round the edges of my field of vision. I also felt certain mild body sensations, similar to what you get on lysergics. The trees seemed somewhat brighter and sharper round the edges. I decided to check out what was going on inside, and closed my eyes. After a few seconds colorful patterns emerged of a remarkable beauty and vividness, dancing and metamorphosing in rapid sequence. I hung around for a little while, as the scenery shifted.
Then followed the first clear indication that I was in for more than I had expected. My recent Vajrayana buddhism studies had taught me to reject any fantasies of the mind as no more real than the phenomena of the samsaric world of "reality". In other words, daydreams and visions encountered during meditation were only obstacles to the attainment of true insight. This meditative discipline now caused me to dismiss the closed eye visuals that the mushroom was presenting for me, to which my response was "...this is like some light show at an acid rock concert. Show me something more profound". The scene immediately shifted and I was brought in close encounter with a half-seen, half-felt presence.
Facing The Gatekeeper
A friend had recently mentioned to me that his last mushroom trip was like a huge, unfriendly bully asking him a question, to which he couldn't find the right answer, and thus his trip turned sour. He compared the interrogator to the sadistic prison guard in "Midnight Express", which I thought was one of the least attractive descriptions of psilocybin I had ever heard! This popped into my head now, although my analogy of this presence is slightly more benign.
What it seemed like to me, was being at an antique shop where all the items seemed nice but kind of touristy, then pulling a curtain aside to an upstairs room where all the real valuables might be, only to find the stairs blocked by a huge thug asking "WHAT DO YOU WANT?". The intensity and power of the presence -- meaning in ordinary language that I was zooming into some serious psychedelic spaces -- surprised me, but relying on my Vajrayana equanimity as well as having worked my way through tricky LSD waters, my response to The Gatekeeper was the same: "what you offer down here is bullshit, I want to see the real stuff". And on that note I sort of jumped past the thug, and found myself upstairs to take in whatever wonders they may had stashed away.
I'm still pretty early into the trip, less than an hour off baseline, and some bean counter in the back of my head is observing that this experience is shaping up to be a lot different, and a lot more, than what I had expected. The tryptamine space is more living, more charged with personality and dialogue, than any acid trip I had been on. What the shroom-heads had said about the organic nature of the experience struck me as true, but the intensity was clearly higher than they had indicated. There was also a sense of shamanic machismo, a need to prove credentials, for both myself and the various presences in this space. So, what did I find "upstairs"?
The Elf Aliens Speak
At this point I was moving back and forth between open and closed eyes, to try and gauge how the experience was unfolding. Outside it was a Nordic summer afternoon with fairly dramatic weather, and the tree foliage by my window offered a most beautiful kaleidoscope as the sunlight and wind played upon it. I reflected that the closed eye visuals were no more interesting than this aliveness, but just to keep logged into that space, I went back into closed eye mode with some determination. The flickering light of the initial rush was there, as were curved lines of a mathematical nature in various colors, that changed into a corridor of sorts, down which I was travelling. I didn't find it terribly impressive, and dismissed it once more. I continued in open eyes mood for a while and looked at the rather amazing scenery, which occasionally turned itself into various monstrous and threatening shapes, that did little to intimidate me. I also did my first notes, which is a somewhat difficult task in this state, but the gist of it was that "nature is not a metaphor, nature does not like metaphors". This sounded interesting to me, and I took down a few more lines on that theme.
At this point, a sinister undertone was registered by me, felt at first as a mainly bodily sensation -- a surging feeling in the gut, a faint high-frequency buzz in my head, and a sense of tightening around the skull. Something in the trip space was not in balance, someone was annoyed. I closed my eyes once more, and was almost immediately confronted by abstract, vaguely hostile shapes, that seemed to contract into something definitely threatening. A vicious, slightly inhuman voice said, "So you want to see something else, eh? Well, how about this?". The voice (or voices) seemed to indicate that it was pissed off by the way I had jumped past the Gatekeeper, and that "no one does that and gets away with it". The vibe in this place was definitely bad, sort of like a pre-stage to Hell, and in line with the old edict, "if you see something horrible, don't cling to it", I moved on. As a sarcastic bye-bye to the hostile entities, I asked them to predict tonight's football game, and opened my eyes again.
I have no idea about time, but would guess this was maybe 1.5-2 hours from time zero. After rejecting the visuals, both good and bad, the trip seemed to plateau in a way an acid trip does after the peak. This is usually my favorite part of the experience, when the energy level is constant and possible to direct into whatever fun you want to have. I had brought out a coloring book of Tibetan tantra art, and selected a very detailed mandala which I intended to fill in during the trip, using my kids' vast array of color pencils. I put on a British folkrock record for a gentle background mood ("Anthem Of The Sun" had been on, but the mushroom seemed uninterested in music, unlike the LSD space), and started coloring in the mandala.
The hand-colored Mandala. Note small mushroom image near the lower right corner.
Things were bobbing along nicely, but I was unable to settle into the blissful peace that was "supposed" to be present; there was a certain restlessness. Like Terence McKenna has pointed out, the psilocybin energy comes in waves, like sets of billows with calmer periods inbetween. Each wave seemed to reach a little higher than the last one, and when the peaks came, I had to stop drawing and go back to my writing. In the successful moments, I would connect to a vast, amorphous presence, who I understood was the ultimate master of this whole dimension. The Godhead almost entirely lacked visual attributes, except a vague sense of something near black and somehow rounded or elliptical. It spoke calmly, and was undoubtedly benevolent. However, it would only communicate in a delphic, cryptic way, and did not explain itself. At this point, its message to me consisted only of single words, "balance", "equilibrium", "equality". I kept reaching for clues, but had too little to work with.
Somewhere in this largely favorable mood I was also dropped into a state of complete ego-loss, which I had only caught a few times before on LSD, and very briefly in meditation. While in this serene place I thought, with utter bewilderment, "I have no ego, and here I am". Even more startling was to instantly hear thousands of voices answer in unison, "yes, here we all are". This was a place more felt than visualized, but the sense was of something like a clear still pool in a cave, bathed in a warm natural light from above -- like being at the high altitude source of a river. Then the pleasant UK folk music playing through my hifi speakers abruptly changed into some bonus "rock" track, and the spell was broken.
The Elf Aliens Have Evil Faces
Back with the mandala coloring book, an ominous undertone kept recurring as new waves of hallucinogen energy hit my consciousness. The Elf Aliens would not go away, and kept buzzing in the back of my head in an unpleasant way. My stomach (or solar plexus chakra) cramped up and the headache returned. There was an increase of anxiety; I was unable to interpret the messages from the mushroom Godhead, and my sarcastic comment about predicting tonight's football game had made the elf aliens very angry. I asked them about the Gatekeeper, and how he fit into the scene. "Oh, he's a good friend of ours, hee-hee-hee", was their troubling response.
On the next energy wave, I went back inside and tried to level with them, apologizing for my lack of respect. This time I stayed around long enough to meet them face to face. They were in a similar mathematical corridor as before, where thin colored lines made up the matrix of some curved space geometry. The light was dull, clinical, and there was a sense of claustrophobia. The elf aliens had vaguely insectile faces with slanted, evil eyes and grim mouths. They were not as vividly clear as this description makes them sound, but that was mainly because I didn't stick around long enough to see them incarnate in full. They spoke in shrill, buzzing voices that were quite inhuman, as though what they were saying was being electronically translated from another form of communication. They seemed to match the descriptions I had read in psilocybin and DMT trip literature very well.
They were dissatisfied with my arrogance, they said. I wondered if they might accept me as a prankster, a trickster, an "egoless joker". Yes, was their somewhat calmer reply. I felt satisfied with our truce, and commented that I like to play pranks sometimes. "So do we, tee-hee-hee", said the elf-aliens in a strangely smug way, and withdrew.
I returned to my coloring game, but then something Terence McKenna had said popped up in my head: "You have to be very careful about the deals you make with these entities." My increasingly paranoid mind figured the elf aliens had tricked me somehow, and I wondered about the gravity of the consequences. As with the Gatekeeper, this was essentially a shamanic game of power and control, being played back and forth. The intensity of the elf alien buzz got louder and more evil, approaching the truly vicious. The next energy wave that hit me was not a trip wave as much as an anxiety wave. I figured I was bordering on a bad trip and took some basic steps to work it out; changing the music to Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony", moving to another room, recapturing the trip so far. I was able to deflect the elf alien's gravest threats (such as insanity and suicide) as mere boasting, but could easily foresee my experiment turning into a primarily negative trip with no closure, which would take months to work off, ruin my summer, spook out my family, and so on.
In between the increasingly unpleasant wave peaks, I sent some bitter thoughts towards the entities, who replied: "Why are you angry with us? We showed you that you have a heart." This was a theme that had appeared a few times during the journey already -- the Godhead had uttered a few multilayered, pun-like comments about a "human heart" and "human nature". The elf aliens, in their less vicious mode, had also tried to direct my attention to my heart, even going so far as drawing big helpful arrows towards the heart region on my body (all in an internal visualized state, naturally). But I could not carry the meaning anywhere, just like I could not interpret the Godhead's references to "balance". Here lay the key to the whole trip; the mushroom entities' activities were directed towards these themes. And I just couldn't figure it out.
The Godhead In The Bathroom
At this point, maybe 5 hours into the experience, my trip was dangling in a very shakey 50/50 state, where whatever happened next would determine the entire outcome. I knew since my negative acid trip (where it took 30 hours before I'd settled down enough to get some sleep) that these processes were not to be taken lightly. They cut into the building blocks of personality, into self-image and basic reactive patterns.
During a calmer phase I went into the bathroom to take a leak, and while on the way out I simply stopped and addressed the Godhead directly. Why are these entities so vicious, I inquired. - They do what they have to do, replied the Godhead's neutral, unaffected voice. Do they belong to you, I asked. - I can't fully control their actions, was the reply.
My interpretation of this was that the elf aliens could go to any lenghts they felt like, as long as it didn't violate the ultimate premises of the journey. And what exactly were those premises? I had no idea. I appealed to the Godhead for some sort of guidance. It had nothing more to say, but, for an instant, the elf aliens returned in their friendlier form, which really wasn't like "elfs", but more like Mexican children. They shouted to me in broken English:
- Your corazon, señor! Your corazon!
The heart once more. What the fuck did it mean? Some sort of sacrifice? I kept turning the word and what it symbolized over and over in my head, while going back to the kitchen.
Then I remembered, in the middle of all this fevered craziness, that my wife had asked me to feed our guinea pigs some lettuce. These two pets were mainly hers, and had raised little interest with myself. I figured putting special care into the simple process of feeding them, like a buddhist monk might, could take my mind off the negative flow of the trip. So I selected the freshest lettuce leaves and washed them under tap water before giving them to the guinea pigs. I stayed a while and watched them nibble away, which is something I had never done before. It seemed like a good thing, a natural thing.
Silly as it may sound, this everyday act became the positive turning point of the trip. I still had the Godhead's central riddles of "balance" and "heart" to figure out, but the alien elfs seemed to hate my guts a little less, although they made sure I knew that they were in the back of my mind, ready to move forward. I worked on my colored-in mandala, wrote some more notes, put on a new record, and brooded.
I was worried that the trip was nearing its end, and that there would be no closure beyond the fact that I had avoided an outright bad trip -- which was not at all satisfactory. I was still very high and unsure what to do, so I switched on the TV and watched the preparations for the football game (the one of my unpopular sarcasm) to try and jolt my brain onto a new track. I didn't really watch the TV, but the more manageable level of the psychedelic energy waves helped me gain some perspective.
And then and there, many hours into the journey, I suddenly understood what this trip was all about, and why I had desired it in the first place, and how it fit into in a long chain of events that reached years back in time. It was all very personal and surprisingly mundane, but the mundanity was one of the key factors to understanding it. There was a very powerful release of tension in my head and my chest, and there was also much sadness and regret. The waves of tryptamine energy were still washing in, and each time they came I tried to clean out as many internal cobwebs as possible. Notes were written, pain was released, decisions were made. Whenever my ego tried to reassert its arrogance, the elf aliens would surface and express their dismay. There was no getting off the hook -- this would have to be worked out as far as it could be worked out during the trip, and my vows for the future would have no game-like quality about them... or else !
The actual contents of this final break-through will have to remain private, but I can assure you that on a modern western scale, there's nothing exceptional about them. It's just life, and dealing with it. However, I could have gone through the rest of my years with my various games and defenses, and never worked these things out. The psilocybe cubensis mushroom, and the teachers which accompany it, found this prospect unacceptable, and despite the near-overpowering harshness of their methods, I am very very grateful for this.
~ SOME REFLECTIONS ~
This was not a "bliss" trip, but a multifaceted experience whose sense of closure and fulfillment carried with it a lot of melancholy. Although the insights and changes reached were vital and positive, I believe that my mistakes made this experience worse than it had to be. Firstly, I had not set a goal for the journey, except a vague idea about having fun and learn, like some naive college kid. Lacking a personal purpose, the mushroom's own agenda was given a lot of space, which rapidly put us into an active-reactive form of communication.
Secondly, I had not given sufficient thought to the relationship between the shamanic model and my buddhist orientation. I briefly considered this issue before the journey began, was unable to find a clear answer, and figured it would be clarified during the trip. Although my meditation experience gave me space to move through a few difficult turns, a lot of friction quickly surfaced between the two models.
Shamanism vs Buddhism
A tantric meditation model such as the one I'm currently pursuing clearly instructs the meditator to reject anything that arises in the mind except a few specific forms -- such as a mandala or yidam -- that are the subject of the practice. Beyond this, the goal is insight into emptiness, where even these stepping stones are to be abandoned, and formless void is experienced. Etc.
Mushroom shamanism on the other hand uses another set of tools, including a fairly loose experience of colors, shapes, buildings, symbols, beings, and so forth, all with dazzling visual properties. Descriptions of these visions tend to vary quite a bit, and for a sceptical mind they can resemble glorious eye candy more than anything substantial. Potentially they will lead to a more profound space, but are they necessary? I have no idea, but my attempts to shortcut whatever journey the mushroom had laid out via a vajrayana, "diamond-cutting" rejection of the pretty kaleidoscope, did not enthuse the mid-level spirits -- the elf aliens.
Interestingly, the Godhead did not seem to object to my shortcuts, and my first encounter with it came rapidly. But there was a sense of incompleteness, of sneaking into to see the king without having gone through the necessary preliminaries. The king was open to communication, but when his vassals came to drag me away, he did not stop them. And so there was a lot of friction back and forth on the intermediary level, interspersed with brief conversations with the top-level dude.
Short version: by skipping past the long, winding colorful intro I made sure that I got to see the main sites of the journey, but it also made it more fragmentary and puzzling than it had to be. On the other hand, when I asked if the colors and shapes could be ignored, the elf aliens said, "yes -- they are for tourists". Maybe it is OK to shortcut, you just have to be nice about it and say the magic word?
Shamanism vs Psychological Models
As my trip report shows, I ran across three different types of entities or presences in the tryptamine space -- the Gatekeeper, the Elf Aliens, and the Godhead. In spatial terms, there was an entry-level room, a passage or corridor, and an egoless source/well. The Godhead resided in or near all these places, while the Gatekeeper was a few steps inside the colorful entry level, and the elf aliens were mainly in the corridor, and around the vague dark form taken sometimes by the Godhead. Those familiar with modern psychedelic literature will recognize this, at least in parts.
Of these presences and places, only the Godhead was able to manifest in the outside human world. When my eyes were open, it would communicate as well, or even better, than it did in the closed eyes world. I found this interesting, and made a note to the effect that a truly significant spiritual power is able to present itself in the human physical world, not just in the hallucinatory space behind closed eyelids.
So what are these things? Well, the Gatekeeper probably only appears when you try to mess with the program, like I did. Coming into the psilocybin dimension with the wrong expectations, or an inappropriate attitude, will bring him forth. You may not be able to get past him, like the friend I mentioned earlier, and which I've also read about in certain trip reports. Coming into the journey on the right foot, you may not even see the Gatekeeper.
On the next level or space I ran into the Elf Aliens. There were several of them, and they seemed to cooperate and often spoke in unison. My interpretation of them is that the elfs and the aliens are two different aspects of the same basic entity; the elf is a mainly benign form, while the insectile alien is a mainly malign form. Even at their most friendly, there is a trickster-like uncertainty about the elfs' agenda, as though they do not commit themselves to anything except themselves. As I mentioned, my view of them (which was more felt than seen) was of Mexican children, like the kind that may contact tourists in train stations and offer to show them to a good hotel... you have to be careful.
The malign, alien form is not to be messed with. Their agenda seems clearly geared towards negativity and hostility. They will feed off your negativity, and up-level the game into something worse, then wait for your next move. They seem capable to proceed into domains of true evil. At the same time, they are not wholly of the dark side, but can operate on fairly neutral ground -- although they do so with an air of disappointment.
As with the Gatekeeper -- who I view as a malign elf alien with a specific task -- your attitude and behavior will trigger the response of the Elf Aliens. The benign elf aspect will feed on things like curiosity, humility and flexibility. The malign alien form will feed on things like rigidity, arrogance, and paranoia. Although it may have been specific to my particular trip, I got the feeling that the malign alien form had greater ability to increase its power than the friendlier elf form.
In any event, this all takes place on an intermediary spiritual level similar to where you may find demons and angels in religion, and where a lot of occult activity is directed. I also believe it to be the level of dreams and nightmares, and the domain of the forefathers in ancestral religions. I am personally not terribly interested in this space, which seems to me a pre-stage to the truly profound levels. At the same time, there was no doubt that these presences had substantial ability to work with or against you on a personal level. In a psychological interpretation, I view these entities as personality traits which are strong but not entirely hardwired -- openness to new experience, fear of the unknown, and so on.
The Other & His Colleagues
Moving on to the Godhead, this is not as common a theme to trip reports as the elf alien type entities. I ran into it early on in the journey, probably as an effect of my vajrayana shortcuts, and my previous LSD navigation. The Godhead seemed to me the highest instance, or level, reachable via this technique. There was a sense of personality, albeit in a very abstract and unearthly way, and it was not an incarnation of "the Void" or "God" or any such. The entire psilocybin trip space belonged to the Godhead, yet his (the voice seemed impersonally male, like Hal the computer in "2001") role was essentially passive.
The Godhead offers advise, and the advise transcends any individual human insight. Yet he does not act -- the elf aliens act for him, or on their own, and he does not intervene in their actions, which occur on a lower level. His advise is true, but he communicates briefly and cryptically, and it's up to you to find the meaning of what he says. He will point you towards what you do not know, and what you have chosen not to see, which is why it's difficult to understand.
At one point I asked the Godhead if he knew Akshobhya, which is my tantric yidam, the meditational buddha form I work with. The Godhead recognized Akshobhya as a powerful deity on a level comparable to his own, but added that "he's not here, he is over in the East". And this is true -- not only the "East" as in India and Tibet, but within the central Tibetan buddha family mandala, Akshobhya is located in the Eastern realm.
Those well versed in Freudian and Jungian psychology may want to speculate on the equivalent of the Godhead, but I personally found him to be the most enigmatic part of the exploration, and perhaps truly Other. In one of its more personal communiqués, the Godhead urged me to "...return to your family. The shaman's life is not for you". Yet it was the silent, benign omnipresence of the Godhead that facilitated the positive resolution of my trip.
This is my experience, from this particular journey in June 2008, and my current reflections upon it. It's likely that what I saw and communicated with was to some extent colored by what I had read in McKenna, in DMT and ayahuasca trip reports on the net, and so forth. At the same time, the overwhelming power and drastic turns of the journey were much different from what I had expected.
© Patrick The Lama 2008
The Lama Workshop